STANDING amongst the writhing crush of Albion fans squeezed in behind the goal at Dean Court on the afternoon of Easter Saturday 1972, I struggled to get a clear view of the frenzied action on the pitch.
Brighton equalised, that much was evident from the eruption and movement of the swaying masses, but who applied the finishing touch was anybody’s guess as far as I was concerned.
I later discovered it was none other than Bertie Lutton, the £5,000 Northern Irish international winger signed only three weeks previously from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Lutton had got himself into the penalty area and with a centre forward-like instinct headed Peter O’Sullivan’s cross past Fred Davies in the Bournemouth goal to cancel out the lead Ted MacDougall** had given the promotion-chasing Cherries.
It was Lutton’s second Albion goal in two days. On Good Friday at the Goldstone, he was on the scoresheet with Bert Murray and Ken Beamish as a bumper crowd of 27,513 (remember this was the third tier of English football) saw Albion beat Torquay United 3-1.
It’s difficult for modern day fans to contemplate but literally 24 hours later, the Albion had travelled nearly 100 miles west to take on Third Division promotion rivals Bournemouth and 22,540 fans crammed into the stadium.
In what was a classic game of two halves, the Cherries dominated the opening 45 minutes and took the lead through MacDougall, a prolific scorer of that period who went on to play for Manchester United, West Ham, Norwich City and Scotland.
Albion threw everything at them after the break and Lutton’s equaliser was fully deserved on the balance of play in the second half.
The goal was enough to keep him in the side for the following three games. After that he reverted to the bench to the end of the season, but was on the pitch, having replaced Kit Napier, when the whistle blew at the end of the 1-1 Goldstone draw with Rochdale that earned Albion promotion as runners up behind Aston Villa…..with Bournemouth three points behind in third place (there were no play-offs in those days).
Raising a glass of promotion-winning champagne in the dressing room with his Brighton teammates after that game must have felt good, but that Dean Court moment was probably as good as it got for the blond-haired Ulsterman in his time on the south coast.
Bertie’s brief footballing career began with his hometown club, Banbridge Town in County Down, and it’s reported just £50 exchanged hands to take him to then English elite side Wolves in 1967.
At a time when Wolves were blessed with some outstanding players like Derek Dougan, Hugh Curran, Dave Wagstaffe, Jim McCalliog and Mike Bailey, Bertie managed just 25 matches for Wolves between 1967 and 1971.
Brighton manager Pat Saward, nicknamed The Loan Ranger because of the number of players who he brought in on loan, first acquired Bertie’s services on a temporary basis between September and November in 1971.
He made his debut in a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa and scored twice in seven games before returning to his parent club.
Then, on 9 March 1972, with the clock ticking down to what in those days was the 5pm transfer deadline, Saward completed a double transfer swoop, securing Lutton’s permanent signing for £5,000 together with striker Ken Beamish from Tranmere for £25,000 (plus the surplus-to-requirements Alan Duffy).
A delighted Saward declared to Argus reporter John Vinicombe: “Bertie can do a job for us anywhere. This can’t be bad for us. At 21 and with two caps for Ireland he has a future and played very well for us while on loan.
“He can play right or left, up the middle, or midfield and Beamish can fit into a number of positions.”
Maybe it was the versatility Saward referred to that worked against Lutton. When Brighton began the 1972-73 season in the second tier, Lutton was still on the bench. He came on in three games, then got four successive starts before going back to the bench.
Albion were finding life tough at the higher level and although Saward switched things around and brought in new faces, the results went from bad to worse.
Lutton started three games in December which all ended in defeat and the 3-0 Boxing Day reverse at Oxford United turned out to be his last appearance for the Albion.
It fell in the middle of a spell of 12 successive defeats during which only five goals were scored – and two of those were penalties, another an own goal!
Saward couldn’t put his finger on the reason for the slump and declared himself dismayed by the attitude of certain players: Lutton was one of three put on the transfer list.
Astonishingly he stepped up a division and went on loan to West Ham. He did well enough to secure a full-time switch to Upton Park and almost a year to the day of his arrival at the Goldstone, he was gone and the shrewd Saward turned a £10,000 profit on the enigmatic Irishman.
Those two caps Saward referred to had come while on Wolves’ books in April 1970 against Scotland and England in the old end-of-season Home International tournament. After his move to West Ham, he gained four more. Indeed, in the history books, he became the first Hammer ever to represent Northern Ireland. He came on as sub in three games in May 1973 and his final appearance was in November that year as a starter in a 1-1 draw away to Portugal.
Sadly his West Ham career lasted just 12 games and he was forced to quit English football in 1974 at the age of just 23.
He emigrated to Australia and played semi-professional football in the Australian Soccer League for a number of years and settled in Melbourne.
The ‘where are they now’ website reveals he most recently worked as a supervisor for a logistics company.
- The website wolvesheroes.com tracked down Lutton in March 2010 and reported a fascinating tale about what happened to a 1970 Mexico World Cup England shirt Bobby Moore had given his old West Ham teammate.
Read more here:
** MacDouGoal! the striker’s autobiography has just been published.
Pictures from my scrapbook show Bertie Lutton
- celebrating a goal for the Albion
- appearing for Wolves
- heading the equaliser in the Easter Saturday draw at Bournemouth